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Dennis O'Brien on northern snakeheads

Seafood and Fishing IndustryTransportation

Glenn, Jessup: Do you think the gentleman that caught the fish is pulling a hoax? I do.

O'Brien: I don't think so. Keep in mind the fisherman was with afriend at the time, and that at least one other person apparently saw thesnakehead lakeside on the ground before it was turned in.

baltimoresun.com staff: Should we expect to see snakeheads pop up in another Maryland community in the near future?

O'Brien: I hope not, but it's a possibility. While federal officials banned importing snakeheads in 2002, someone could still have one, purchased from either a fish market or a pet store. Biologists believe they can live up to eight or nine years.

Mac, Towson: Where do these northern snakehead fish come from? They're not native to Maryland, so how'd they get here?

O'Brien: They were brought into the U.S. for sale in live fish markets that cater to Asian immigrants. No one is sure when they first arrived, but they were sold for years in New York City. While its illegal to import them into the U.S., they're still beingsold in fish markets in Canada.

Bill, Baltimore County: I can't believe the snakehead tried to bite a man'sboot! Why is this fish so aggressive? What makes it so?

O'Brien: It's protecting itself in a stressful situation. Whileunusual, such reactions aren't unique. A northern pike also will snap.

L.S., West Towson: Why drain that lake in Wheaton? Why not justshock it and let it be until someone catches another snakehead? I thoughtthey said someone admitted putting the snakehead in there. Seems like a lotof money to spend draining a lake [and] moving fish to finally get rid of onefish. How much did it cost to drain the lake?

O'Brien: It cost $10,000 to drain and refill the lake. If leftalone, there was a chance the fish could have spawned and its eggs spreadto connecting waterways downstream, which include the Anacostia and Potomacrivers. Electro-fishing is not effective because it doesn't catch everyfish. Draining was seen as a better option than applying rotenone, a poisondumped in the ponds infested in Crofton in 2002. Unlike the lake inWheaton, the Crofton ponds were full of vegetation and snakeheads and eggscould have hidden in it, making draining less effective in that case.

Mike, Westminster: How fast do snakeheads move on land?

O'Brien: Scientists generally aren't sure. The best estimate isthat they make a slow crawl. Some tropical and subtropical species ofsnakeheads are actually capable of hopping. Among the northern species, it'sonly the juveniles -- those less than a foot long -- that will crawl.

Debbie, Edgewood: It is interesting reading about snakeheads, butwhy should I care?

O'Brien: As aggressive predators, they feed on other fish, canwipe out other species of fish and can spread to connecting waterways. Upto 90 percent of their diet is other fish. It's a perfect example of how aninvasive species can overtake and destroy a habitat when it has no naturalpredators.

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